Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIV

Restlessness and Torment

Tell me who die ... who marry, who hang themselves because they cannot marry.

Jefferson to Eliza House Trist,
August 15, 1785 1

France for Jefferson was in every sense a liberation. It freed him from provincial notions about the ultimate superiority of American life and ameliorated his prejudice against great cities, for Paris was a city to which he fondly hoped to return. It broadened his understanding of international finance and trade and sharpened his instincts about the sources and nature of national power. And it gave him an opportunity to share in a second revolution that had enormous political consequences. Most importantly for his domestic life, it helped to free him from the bondage of his dead wife. In Paris he embraced the philosophy, "the earth belongs to the living; the dead shall have no power over it." All the dammed-up resources of affection, trickling over from the moment of his arrival at Le Havre, began to pour out during his first Paris spring, and then, totally released in his love affair with the ethereal little artist-musician Maria Cosway, flowed henceforth in a flood of affection for France, for its countryside, its artists, its scientists, even for Louis XVI, whom at least in the beginning he counted an amiable monarch, with "an honest heart." 2

Had he been sent home as he expected within a few months, he might have returned totally enchained as before by the memories at Monticello. He recognized this bondage in writing wistfully to Eliza Trist, "Tell me who die that I may meet these disagreeable events in

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